Afro-Cubans and Sierra Leoneans Bridge the Gap in Documentary They Are We (2013)
Can a family separated for 170 years by the transatlantic slave trade sing and dance its way back together again? THEY ARE WE tells a story of survival against the odds, and how determination and shared humanity can triumph over the bleakest of histories.
From the approximately 1000 to 1500 AD, a number of city-states on the eastern coast of Africa participated in an international trade network and became cosmopolitan Islamic cultural centers. The major autonomous, but symbiotic, city-states stretched over 1,500 miles from Mogadishu (in modern day Somalia) in the north to Sofala (in modern Mozambique) in the south and included Mombasa, Gedi, Pate, Lamu, Malindi, Zanzibar, and Kilwa.
Each of these cities evolved from agricultural villages that produced goods on a small scale. Over time, these villages intensified their small-scale agricultural economies to create surpluses for trading. This shift also changed the structure of the society of these villages as more wealth created an elite merchant class. The new prosperity elevated some agricultural villages into towns and cities, while others were founded to capitalize on the opportunities sparked by the growing Indian Ocean trade.
These city-states also exported natural resources. Local merchants gathered ivory from the south, gold from the western interior and frankincense and myrrh from northern Africa. Kilwa, Pate, and Mogadishu also developed a local textile industry while Kilwa and Mogadishu extracted copper from nearby mines. All of the states produced pottery. Ironworking had evolved in East Africa before the rise of the city states. They improved the process and produced iron objects for trade as well as local use.
Archaeology studies provide evidence that the city states carried on a flourishing long distance trade with Persia, India, and China. Coins from these states have been found in each of the African city states. Also found were examples of pottery from Persia and Arabia, Chinese qing bai, and Cizhou wares as well as kohl sticks, glass beads, bronze mirrors, and objects of rock crystal reflect the China trade. Other wares from Indonesia, dating back to the 13th century, indicate that Southeast Asia was also part of the East African city state commercial world.
By 1350 all of the city-states had converted to Islam partly because of commercial advantages but also because of the large scale Shirazi (Persian) immigration to the area. Although the name suggests that most immigrants came from Shiraz in southern Persia, in fact they migrated from a number of locals stretching from the Arabian Peninsula to what is now Pakistan. Many of these families had long established trading relationships and often brought substantial wealth which placed them at the head of the local merchant class. The new ruling elite gradually homogenized the immigrant and indigenous African communities and in the process created the distinctive Swahili culture and language that extended from Mogadishu to Sofala.
By the end of the14th century, architecture of the city-states followed similar styles and construction techniques, especially in the domestic structures and tombs. Coral stone and concrete mosques also developed in the city-states. The architecture also reflected a luxurious lifestyle for the merchant class and a complex economy with varying levels of craftsmanship and expertise.
Portuguese and Dutch dominance of the Indian Ocean trade after 1500 led to the decline of the city states. Many of them such as Sofala and Kilwa became outposts of European colonial authority. The lack of an integrated political system ultimately rendered the city-states unprepared for the militarily well-equipped Portuguese and Dutch. Also the growth of powerful interior states such as Buganda reduced the trading influence of these city-states in the interior.
Sources: Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, The history of African Cities South of the Sahara: from the Origins to Colonization (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005); Philip D. Curtin, African History: from Earliest Times to Independence (London: Longman, 1995); Chapurukha M. Kusimba, The Rise and Fall of Swahili States (London and New Delhi: AltaMira, 1999).
1644 map of Africa Made by Willem Janszoon Blaeu (1571-1638).
One of the most decorative and popular of all early maps of Africa, from the “golden age” of Dutch mapmaking. First issued in 1630, the map was reprinted many times between 1631 and 1667, appearing in Latin, French, German, Dutch, and Spanish editions of Blaeu’s atlases. The maps and atlases of the Blaeu family business, carried on after Willem’s death by sons Cornelis and Joan, marked the epitome of fine engraving and coloring, elaborate cartouches and pictorial detail, and fine calligraphy—the most magnificent work of its type ever produced.
In the format called carte à figures, this map contains views of the major cities and trading ports of Africa at the time: Tangier and Ceuta (Morocco), Tunis (Tunisia), Alexandria and Cairo (Egypt), Mozambique (seaport of Mozambique), Elmina (Ghana, and Grand Canary (Canary Islands) Side panels depict costumed people from areas visited along the coasts. The interior is decorated with exotic animals (lions, elephants, ostriches), which were (and still are) a major source of fascination for the public. The Nile (today’s White Nile) is shown flowing from the Ptolemaic lakes of Zaire and Zaflan. Flying fish and strange sea creatures cavort in the oceans, and the sailing ships all bear Dutch flags. Coastal names are engraved inward to give a clear, sharp outline to the continent.
Probably the most interesting cartographic feature is the identification of specific large territories or kingdoms, which have been outlined in color, including a huge Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and Monomotapa (all of southern Africa). But these seem to reflect a European sense of nationhood—something presumed and projected upon a virtually unexplored canvas—more than the actual experience of traders and explorers, who would continue to report on hundreds of smaller ethnic enclaves and political fiefdoms during the next 250 years
Interestingly note how Africa was perceived by the Early explorers no negative connotations.
From: The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean World
The Graphic. Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.
In August 1894, Ali Pasha Cherif, president of the Egyptian Legislative Council; Shawarbi Pasha, a prominent member of the council; Hussein Pasha Wacyf, a retired general; four slave dealers; and two brokers were tried in Cairo. The dealers had introduced six Sudanese women despite the abolition of the slave trade and had sold them to the three men. The Egyptian authorities acquitted the two pashas because they had merely bought, not traded in, captives; and after Ali Pasha Cherif confessed and asked for clemency, the proceedings against him were stopped. The sellers were sentenced to long jail terms.
A map by cartographer John George Bartholomew (1860-1920)
I’m going to take the time to type this out, because, you know, holy shit.
The pink: Healthy colonizable Africa, where European races may be expected to become in time the prevailing type, where essentially European states may be formed.
The yellow: Fairly healthy Africa: but where unfavorable conditions of soil or water supply, or the prior establishment of warlike or enlightened native races or other causes, may effectually prevent European colonization.
The gray: Unhealthy but exploitable Africa: impossible for European colonization but for the most part of the great commercial value and inhabited by fairly docile, governable races; the Africa of the trader and planter and of despotic European control
The brown: Extremely unhealthy Africa
I have no words to describe any of this, except to note that this was a genocide that these bastards planned, and carried out, in many many parts.
Next time someone tells you to “just get over it”, it being the European colonization of the world…. show them this. Some things…. you just don’t ever get over.
It makes me SICK to think we’re supposed to pick up pieces of ourselves and somehow be not-broken, just because there isn’t *visible* presence of the colonizers anymore.
Enlighten yourselves, we are the change it can only come from us.